In the off season of photographing weddings for a living there is a lot of time to dive into personal projects and dream up ways to get out of the house. In the quiet month of February a project idea rose to the surface and I immediately felt excitement at the thought of bringing it to life.
I’ve always been interested in the threads of other entrepreneurs’ intricate woven stories that led them to exactly where they are now and what influences them to create & share their work with the world. Through conversations with other self-employed creatives, I’ve learned that everyone’s story is unique as a whole, but within each story there are threads that resonate deeply & connect us to each other.
My intention for these interviews is to loosely connect those threads and share the stories with you.
Erin Lalley- Bauer is the driving & creative force behind Fern Croft Floral. I first fell in love with Erin’s floral design when I found her work on instagram through a friend. Since then, we’ve had the privilege of photographing a few weddings with Fern Croft Floral and each and every time I’m left in awe of her arrangements and the way they each seem to whisper their own secrets.
As a business owner, Erin is ethically and environmentally conscious and is committed to making sustainable choices and working with others that do the same. She believes in doing well by the people and the environment, and that quality needn’t come at a cost.
There is an obvious intention behind Erin’s vision when you step in her shop, or admire her arrangements. I’ve long been inspired by Erin’s custom craftsmanship and commitment to using the negative space in the design as much as she uses the positive. Her arrangements are a form of tangible poetry, a distinctive style and rhythm in each piece that seem to flow with emotion & intention.
I sat down with Erin in person at her storefront in Buffalo, New York where we had a candid conversation about the small & big moments that lead us to where we are today, our struggles with being self employed, and our desire to keep learning and evolving. After our conversation, I sent Erin a few questions to help get our conversation on paper. Here’s a little bit of what she has to share:
Tell me about Fern Croft & your shop on Bryant:
Fern Croft is a floral design studio where we create daily arrangements, have weekly accounts, design for weddings, and do some funeral work. Our floral design work is seasonal, and sometimes forage for our materials, but also aren’t afraid to mix in tropicals (and other non-seasonal fauna) when necessary. For instance last Tuesday we were taming 12ft Salix (pussy willow) into a vase to be ornamented with birds of paradise for our hotel work. Transition to Thursday and we are preparing for a wedding using fragrant garden roses and sweet peas.
Fern Croft moved onto Bryant Street in December of 2016. The retail side was an after thought, but since venturing into I have tried to create a heightened experience for the patrons and passerby’s. Indulge their senses a bit.. We currently offer Houseplants, specially-chosen pots, planters and artisan made ceramics pottery. Our pottery is always changing. I spend a lot of time looking for new artists.
Retail is hard, and our location is off the beaten path, but I committed to this space.
What did you want to be when you were younger?
I never had black and white expectations. I enjoy art and design, but I can also see myself in many other roles. Being a small business owner gives me that opportunity- I am accountant, purchaser, designer, customer service representative, delivery driver and custodian.
What are your earliest memories of being drawn to florals?
Freshman year in college I became inspired by an American landscape and still life paintings work. His still life paintings in particular. Tiny bud vases with one of two delicate wildflowers, soft, nuanced lighting. His sensitivity and awareness for nature is so clear. His paintings gave me a new dialogue about naturalism. My art became more about the visual representation of simplicity, nature and ‘placidity.
I’ve always been fascinated by the threads that lead someone right to the moment they are in. What were some key moments/threads in your life that lead you to creating Fern Croft?
In college I signed up for a studio illustration class called ‘Natural history drawing.” The studio class was held once a week in the Professors home. The home was filled with beautiful artwork and well crafted furniture. I admired her objects, and way of displaying them. I developed a ‘way of seeing’ that formed intention and spirit in my living spaces.
Without a doubt, had I not taken that class I would not be doing what I am today. Or maybe I would, but it would have presented itself differently.
Was there any seemingly big life moments that pushed Fern Croft to evolve to where it is now?
Calling myself a ‘florist’ on a whim, and my father dying when I was 27.
Can you expand a little more on these moments?
A gallery gift shop downtown wanted to display some of my botanic stationary. When I dropped off the cards, I also brought a floral arrangement. I mentioned that I was also a ‘florist’. A few months later I received an email from the gallery owner about a local wedding show. She thought it would be a good idea for me to show off more of my flowers. I did the show that spring and booked five weddings.
Before my dad passed I was always careful about risk taking. When he died I suddenly became hyper aware of life’s transient nature. His death allowed me to develop a new voice for myself, and to seek my full potential without being apologetic.
How has Fern Croft evolved since you first opened?
I became a sole proprietor in 2014, so this is my 5th year. The vision is constantly changing, because the business is evolving, but the goal has always been to preserve the beauty of nature as directly as possible, Aesthetically I am guided by my simplistic sensibilities. As a craftsman, developing my skill is most important. I want the work to be the best it can possibly be.
What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned from starting and running your own business?
You have to make decisions based on your experience and the information you have available. It may not turn out to be correct later, but it’s better than being paralyzed by indecision.
How do you refocus yourself when you’re feeling uninspired or stuck?
I work through those periods. Maybe the work isn’t the best, but at least I’m producing and there’s light at the end of the tunnel.
What phrase of words have most resonated with you recently?
“Character — the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life — is the source from which self-respect springs.” – From Joan Didion’s essay on Self Respect.
You became a mother right before you launched Fern Croft — can you share more about your experience of motherhood and starting a business from the ground up?
It was a surprise for me to find out I was entering into motherhood. I had just graduated college, and didn’t have an overall ‘plan’.
My life changed so fast. It was difficult, and at times I remembering feeling powerless, and anxious. I viewed my peers as following a ‘normal path’. I had many demands, and responsibilities that most people at 24 don’t have. These feelings didn’t last long. I soon realized, that this was exactly everything I wanted and that I had more freedom and time to develop ideas about what I really wanted to do- and when I was ready it was no surprise that Fern Croft grew so quickly, because the whole idea had already been formulated.
Where do you see Fern Croft evolving in the next 5 years ?
Right now I feel I still have a lot to learn in my craft and running a shop, so in that sense FernCroft still serves me. Eventually, I see it evolving to the point where the shop goes away and the flower work complete. I think a lot about transitions. How to make the right moves…. slowly. I am interested in gardens. Since buying my house I have built up my own garden. I know the effects that it has had on me spiritually, and I want to create this kind of space and feeling for others.
What is one thing you know for certain?
What you give is what you’ll get back.